Thai food – Vegetarian’s guide

The amount of variety you get in veg food in India is unmatchable. So when two Indian vegetarians like me and my mom travels outside India, we hunt for authentic local Veg cuisines. But we didn’t have to hunt for it since veg food options aren’t scarce in a place like Thailand, where meat dominates. So if someone says there is no good Veg authentic Thai food, ignore them and devour the veg delicacies in Thailand. And Indians, keep your guards down. Stop eating Dal Bhati or Dosa and munch on the red/green curries with rice.

Here is your guide to devour tasty Veg Thai food and where to get them.

Index

Quick facts about Thai food

This is a typical scene throughout Thailand – Seafood and meat. Though you find plenty of vegetarian options in Thailand, meat is the dictator.

  • You don’t need to learn using chopsticks. You may find it in a few restaurants as an option. So it is simple spoons and forks. We hardly saw anyone using fingers to eat though.
  • Thai dishes may be spicy to western travellers, but not for Indians. If you prefer it on the bland side, specify it while ordering.
  • This uses coconut more than we (South Indians)use. Coconut oil/milk/flesh – you find something coconuty in almost all dishes.
  • In Chiang Mai, there are more vegan restaurants compared to Bangkok.
  • Out of the seven towns we visited, Sukothai had the best food.

Visit any vegetable market in Thailand – A tropical paradise with heaps of fresh veggies you find.

  • Mom and I wish we took a cooking class. Their veg tastes amazing and way different from what we have in India. So reserve a day at least to learn Thai cooking.
  • Typical Thai breakfast contains rice, boiled to make it like Porridge ( or Ganji in my language) and meat of choice. We saw many carts at Phra Nakon, Old Bangkok. You can ask for the plain Porridge without meat if they have meat separated. I tried it once with vegetables, and I didn’t like it.
  • So for breakfast, it is better to depend on cafes that serve continental food than traditional food so that you get good bread, croissants and fruits.
  • If not cafes, you find 7/11 everywhere. They have everything a veggie needs for breakfast.
  • Lunch and dinner are where the vegetarians get to hog on. Your options are plenty.
  • Snacking in the evening is not troublesome. Kiosks selling Boiled bananas, riced pudding, coconut pudding appear in the evening on the streets by evening.

Street snacks at Chiang Mai night Market

Top 5 favourite Thai Veg dishes

I found the red and green curries to be tasty, but these five dishes won my heart.

Mango Sticky Rice

If I have to list the top 5 favourite veg dishes from all over the globe, Mango sticky rice takes one of the top spots. This seasonal dish is heavenly for vegetarian travellers. Fortunately, we were in June – the end of the Mango season in Thailand. So we could taste the best veg dish in Thailand.

 I would call this” Thailand’s national veg dish” Irrespective of the region, it was available throughout the nation. Each region may use different rice and different mangoes, giving it a different taste. Still, the taste remains luscious. Some serve white sticky rice with a dip of thick coconut milk. Few do it with greyish blue rice and lots of jaggeries. This is even considered as a dessert at times, not the main course! Whatever may be the variant, this dish is always delightful.

Thai Coconut Rice 

If you have tasted Thenga Choru from Kerala, a spoon of Thai coconut rice can remind you of Kerala. They aren’t the same, but the essence of coconut brings back the Kerala memories. The jasmine rice cooked in coconut milk gives you the coconut-popcorny taste. Other boiled veggies like carrot, baby corn, beans create a bonanza of flavours. The taste varies with the region. We found Central Thailand’s coconut better than Northern Thailand.

Coconut ice cream

Tender coconut itself is refreshing in Thailand. This ice cream takes coconut to another level only. With a bit of rough texture, you may not even feel you are eating ice cream. Every bite or lick, there comes a small chunk of coconut flesh to tickle your taste bud. You may have eaten similar ice cream in India’s Naturals. But there is something unique about Thailand’s coconut cream. The extra topping like cherries, nuts and a cup of cold fresh coconut water at the bottom is what your soul needs while you explore a Thai town on foot on a sunny day. We happen to see coconut ice cream shops only in Bangkok and Phuket. So when in Phuket, this is a must-try unique dish.

Som Tam AKA Thai papaya salad 

We have tried plenty of salads in India – Salsa in Mexican restaurants or Kosambari in our south Indian thalis. Thai Papaya salad is different from all these because it is made of raw papaya and roasted peanuts. This salad is a perfect example of a dish with flavours that complement each other in utmost harmony. Chillies for spice, lemon for sourness, honey for sweetness, a bitterness of Soy sauce! The roasted peanuts add crunchiness to them. The carrot, shredded green vegetables are all the healthier parts of this dish. Non-vegetarians, add dried fish or shrimps at times. When ordering veg Thai Papaya salad, make sure you specify” NO FISH OIL.”

Best restaurants in different cities

Sukothai

Best place to eat – Old city landmark

When you travel, you may like a place. But it takes great food to make you fall in love with that place. Sukothai’s countryside vibe, the historical ruins in the forest is something any hiker would like. It is their food that makes it even more special. Whether it is fresh juice or bread, Sukothai serves the best food and the best massage.

The best food we ever tasted in those 15 days of our trip was here! The Old city cafe was at the entrance of our guest house. Half of the seating is by the street side while the rest is inside. So from a cup of coffee to a heavy meal after that long train journey, this small cafe must be on your list of best restaurants in Sukothai. Nobody made the coconut rice like these guys made it – coconut rice with corn and veggies. The friendly staff, outdoor seating, excellent food and drinks – Eating at Old City Landmark cafe was more like an experience than just eating.

Ayuttaya

Ayuttaya is famous for its ancient capital city ruins. But the choices of food places aren’t limited. From Sushi to Croissants, Pad Thai to spicy yellow curry, the eateries here serve a variety. Though it is a temple town, there are many beer clubs. With the arrival of herds of tourists, few restaurants even serve Vegan food. The only problem is, the city is so sleepy that hardly any places will open up for breakfast before 11! So if you have to catch a train to Phitsanulok by 9.30 AM, you must search a bit. My mom is an early morning person. Plus, her morning dose of daily exercise and walking by the temple ruins were beautiful until we began to crave the morning Caffeine. Probably in that 2km of morning walk, we found no cafe open either for coffee or breakfast.

Best place to eat in Ayuttaya – Burinda,

This place is right opposite Ratcha Burana. Its locality by the main road near the main temple entrance makes it the perfect place for your Ayuttaya walking exploration. This cosy place with fewer tables and plenty of vegetarian and Vegan choices was undoubtedly most convenient. The crispy noodles with loads of veggies and juicy mango sticky rice with fresh Mangoes are a must-try. It cost 400 INR (200 Baht) for the two of us.

The only place where we got breakfast at 8 is – Coffee old city, near Wat Mahatat.

Though this place was the only option at 8 AM, I am sure this is the best place. Croissants sandwich, Thai breakfast Jok without meat, strong coffee, and a fresh fruit platter are what we needed for the rest of the journey—breakfast for two costs around 300 INR or 150 Baht.

Phuket

The top 3 eateries in Phuket, in my opinion, after spending five fantastic days in Phuket are –

Try these cafes in Old Phuket –

China Inn, Old Phuket

My mouth waters every time I think of that sticky mango rice from here. Everything about Old Phuket is excellent. Restaurants like this amplify my love for Old Phuket. The sober interiors with hanging lamps, antiques like old tins, bronze cutlery, curvy glasses – everything about the place is adorable.

Their quantity is less compared to most other cafes, but this was the correct quantity for us. The bluish-grey sticky rice with edible purple flowers and juicy mangoes was a delight. Their cocktail tastes fantastic, and there are plenty of choices for non-vegetarians too.

HEADS UP –this place is open from 11 AM TO 6.30 PM six days a week, except Sundays. The owners didn’t seem to be happy running the business. They weren’t rude, but there was no sign of even a slight smile on their face. The service is slow, but the taste is all worth it.

The old Phuket Coffe station, Old Phuket

I don’t know what is more beautiful – the coffee here or the interiors. Located right at the corner of Old Phuket’s circle, this brown building stands out from the rest. When you walk inside, their collection of antique radios and old photographs keeps you mesmerised for at least thirty minutes. One common thing that happens to everyone here is that you forget to place your order while you check out those 1950’s radio models. Each time a new customer who enters the cafe said, “Oh my god! Look at this” The staff waits for them to settle down slowly and politely asks,” Are you ready to place the order, sir”. The prices are a bit higher when you compare it to its neighbouring cafes. This is a great place to take a break from your shopping day with some cakes and fries along with a big hot cup of coffee.

Heads up – the food option is limited, especially for vegetarians, but it is good.

i-Kroon, Patong Phuket.

I have been talking about the cafes in Old Phuket because we spent most of the time. Patong is excellent for those who love the city vibe like Bangkok. But we found it infected with mass tourism. It is beyond touristy. You name a cuisine; there is a restaurant serving it. You get everything in Patong from South India’s Idli Vada to Egyptian Taameyas. It is tedious to look for a lovely cafe with proper Thai food here. Most restaurants showcase french fries with the burger on their front display board. Finding our veg Padthai or the Mango sticky rice with outlets like KFC and Mc Donalds was difficult.

Fortunately, we found I-Kroon while hunting for a budget-friendly Thai restaurant. A small set-up with a variety and tasty food is I-Kroon is a mid-range budget eatery. It serves Thai food and a few continental foods like French fries and burgers too. Their Mango sticky rice was unique of all because of the toppings. The thick coconut paste with Jaggery, crispy fried Moong dal, and greyish rice was out of the world.

A meal for two cost us 500baht here.

Chiang Mai

Bubbles live, Old town.

The best thing about Chiang Mai is the availability of Veg and Vegan food. Though we aren’t vegans, the good looking vegan food attracted us. So Chiangmai is ‘The Cafe Capital of Thailand” 

In old Town Chiang Mai, we had probably coffee almost five times a day by the small sidewalk cafes. If you want a more superior ambience, there are always unique ones. Those may be on the expensive end, but not to worry. Many small kiosks with no names serve hot espresso and Cappucino, especially in Old town Chiang Mai and the Night Bazaar.

The only disadvantage here: It is a super sleepy town. The entire town vibe is opposite to Bangkok ( That is what makes Chiang Mai unique, though), But this laid back vibe seeps into the cafes and restaurants massively. On Sundays, the coffee shops open late in the evening. On the regular days, the breakfast shops open by 11. Many restaurants are closed on Sundays. So if you are looking for a late-night dinner in the old town, it is almost impossible. Even on a weekday, the service is so slow that you get bugged up of waiting hungrily. 

After eating almost four Vegan meals in Chiang Mai, mom and I figured out that we both don’t enjoy Vegan food as much as we love our veg food. I am neither a fan of Almond milk for coffee nor Tofu. But I loved Vegan drinks.

Smaller cafes we loved most in Chiang Mai Old town
  • Le lighthouse and hostel -Essentially, this is part of the hostel in the old town. With minimalist interior, freshly brewed coffee, and low prices make it a great choice even for late-night caffeine cravings.
  • Fresh Coffee – The name says it all—another budget coffee shop to grab and walk.
  • Soi7 espresso bar – Their coffee is excellent, not the ambience. It is better to grab and walk than sitting there to enjoy the coffee.
  • Phankhon coffee – Spacious coffee shop with tasty cakes.

All these are super budget-friendly and extremely good.

Bubbles live is lively and green. Plus, they have super friendly dogs you can play with while waiting for the food. Probably, you don’t get any food that is unhealthy here. I can’t confirm whether the ingredients are organically grown, but the food is chemical and synthetic additives free. The healthy beetroot with an orange shake, salads with Tofu, less spicy wheat noodles is super healthy. In Chiang Mai, this was the best place to munch on some healthy snacks and to have lunch on a sunny afternoon. Simple Lunch for two cost us around 600 Baht.

Cube, near Night Bazaar

I am too confused about this restaurant. Our driver Mr Boon suggested this place for dinner after arriving from Chiang Rai. Many foreign tourists appreciate this place. Yes, the food was super delicious but not worth waiting for hours together to get the food. We waited for almost 45 minutes to get the food. Then, after finishing, we had to wait for 30 more minutes to get our bill! So unless you got all the time in the world and are ok with hours of waiting, don’t opt for this. An elaborate dinner of cabbage rolls, Pad Thai and other vegan dishes cost us 1000 Baht.

Bangkok

Whatever is your choice of cuisine, you need not worry about the restaurant. Expensive rooftop cafe Whatever is your selection of cuisine, you need not worry about the restaurant while in Bangkok. Expensive rooftop cafe with views of skyscrapers or the cheap cup of noodles, you have zillions of options. Here is a list of a few restaurants we tried in Bangkok that we recommend.

Deck by the river

The food is good, but the view is excellent. Located on the Chao Phraya River, it faces the Wat Arun temple. Tucked inside the shaded alleys, this place is perfect for any time of the day. The dinner is gifted with Wat Arun’s glowing lights and that tourist cruise that keeps disturbing the atmosphere with loud and tacky music. But the view is excellent. Located on the Chao Phraya River bank, it faces the Wat Arun temple. Tucked inside the shaded alleys, this place is perfect for any time of the day. The dinner is gifted with Wat Arun’s glowing lights and that tourist cruise that keeps sailing now and then. The only drawback I found was, there are fewer options for vegetarians. The Pannacotta with fresh fruits of Thailand and coconut water with ice cream was perfect. The veg main course option was mainly Pizza, though. It is a fantastic place to end the day after a full day exploring in Bangkok or lunch to pause your exploration. The restaurant visibility is a bit hidden, so not many tourists head to this place. During peak season, make sure to call them before you book a table.

Heads up – This isn’t a budget-friendly restaurant, but worth it. A dinner for two costs around 1200 Baht.

Tham Na, near Khao san Road

We were(over) excited to find good food on the most famous Khao San road. But, in June, the shocking truth is the road felt very different from what I had read. With hardly a few clubs and restaurants open, it was unexciting. But, near Bangkok’s so-called “happening road”, Tham Na’s only restaurant served plenty of veg food. From Indian food to traditional Thai food, pad thai and fried rice, you get lots of choices here in this restaurant.

List of Indian Restaurants we tried in Thailand

Got better recommendations and want to tell us more about vegetarian food in Thailand? Tell us in the comment section below.

Published by Sahana Kulur

Traveller | Blogger | Architecture and history

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